European fury at Britain's chaotic quarantine rules and air bridges

European fury at Britain's chaotic quarantine rules and air bridges

May 23, 2020

European fury at Britain’s chaotic quarantine rules: French hit back with their own quarantine rules for Brits after their exemption was rejected and Italy calls for a ‘coordinated approach’

  • European leaders have reacted with fury after Britain revealed plans for arrivals
  • Priti Patel said those arriving from June 8 will be forced to self-isolate for 14 days
  • France said it might impose a ‘reciprocal measure’ on Brits arriving at its borders
  • Italy called on Britain to rethink its rules and asked for a ‘coordinated approach’
  • The travel industry also lambasted the the regime, labelling it ‘unenforceable’

European leaders have reacted with fury after Britain revealed its plans for a tough new quarantine regime requiring arrivals into the UK to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel has received widespread backlash both at home and abroad after unveiling the measures, which have been dubbed ‘ineffective and unenforceable’ by the travel industry.

Ms Patel’s announced yesterday that anyone arriving into the UK from June 8 would be legally required to self-isolate for two weeks or face fines of up to £3,200. 

France immediately hit back at the UK last night, saying it ‘regretted’ the decision and would look to impose a ‘reciprocal measure’ on Brits arriving at its borders.

Meanwhile Italy, which at one point was the epicentre of Europe’s coronavirus crisis, said it hoped Britain would rethink its rules and called for a ‘coordinated approach’.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has received widespread backlash both at home and abroad after unveiling the new quarantine measures on Friday

Pictured: Passengers wearing PPE queue up to board a China-bound flight at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport on Friday

Ms Patel said that ‘air bridges’ could be agreed with certain countries with a similar or lower Covid-19 infection rate, meaning citizens could travel between each nation without the imposing of self-isolation.

However no such agreements had been finalized as of Friday’s announcement, while preliminary talks between the UK and France about a quarantine-free corridor with no checks abandoned two weeks ago.

Responding to yesterday’s announcement last night, a spokesman for France’s Interior Minister said: ‘We take note of the British government’s decision and we regret it.

‘France is ready to put in place a reciprocal measure as soon as the system comes into force on the British side.’

Who is exempt from the government’s mandatory 

Here is the list of people exempt from the 14-day self-isolation requirement.

– A road haulage worker and road passenger transport worker

– A transit passenger, an individual transiting to a country outside of the Common Travel Area, who remains airside and does not pass border control

– An individual arriving to attend pre-arranged treatment, when receiving that treatment in the UK

– A registered health or care professional travelling to the UK to provide essential healthcare, including where this is not related to coronavirus

– A person who has travelled to the UK for the purpose of transporting, to a healthcare provider in the UK, material which consists of, or includes, human cells or blood which are to be used for the purpose of providing healthcare

– Quality assurance inspectors for human medicines

– Sponsors and essential persons needed for clinical trials or studies

– Civil aviation inspectors engaged on inspection duties

– Eurotunnel train drivers and crew, Eurotunnel Shuttle drivers, freight train drivers, crew and essential cross-border rail freight workers operating through the Channel Tunnel

– A Euratom inspector

– Workers engaged in essential or emergency works, related to water supplies and sewerage services

– Workers engaged in essential or emergency works related to a generating system, an electricity interconnector, a district heat network, communal heating, automated ballast cleaning and track re-laying systems or network

– A worker undertaking activities in offshore installations, upstream petroleum infrastructure, critical safety work on offshore installations and wells

– Workers engaged in essential or emergency works

– Drivers and crew of trains operated by Eurostar International Limited, essential cross-border workers working for Eurostar International Limited

– Operational, rail maintenance, security and safety workers working on the Channel Tunnel system

– A worker with specialist technical skills, where those specialist technical skills are required for essential or emergency works or services  

– Seamen and masters

– A pilot, as defined in paragraph 22(1) of Schedule 3A to the Merchant Shipping Act

– An inspector, and surveyor of ships

– Crew, as defined in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Air Navigation Order 2016(h), where such crew have travelled to the UK in the course of their work

– Nuclear personnel who are essential to the safe and secure operations of a licensed nuclear site

– Nuclear emergency responder

– Agency inspector

– An inspector from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a specialist aerospace engineer, or a specialist aerospace worker

– A person engaged in operational, maintenance or safety activities of a downstream oil facility that has a capacity in excess of 20,000 tonnes

– A postal worker involved in the transport of mail into and out of the UK

– A person involved in essential maintenance and repair of data infrastructure

– An information technology or telecommunications professional whose expertise is required to provide an essential or emergency response to threats and incidents relating to security

– A person who is engaged in urgent or essential work on electronic communications networks

– A person who is engaged in urgent or essential work for the BBC’s broadcasting transmission network and services

– A seasonal agricultural worker 

– Members of diplomatic missions and consular posts in the United Kingdom

– Crown servants or government contractors returning to the United Kingdom who are either: required to undertake policing or essential government work in the United Kingdom within 14 days of their arrival, have been undertaking policing or essential government work outside of the United Kingdom but are required to return temporarily, after which they will depart to conduct policing or essential government work outside the United Kingdom

– International prison escorts – a person designated by the relevant Minister under section 5(3) of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984(a)

– A person responsible for escorting a person sought for extradition pursuant to a warrant issued under Part 3 of the Extradition Act 2003 or sought for extradition pursuant to any other extradition arrangements

– Defence personnel and contractors doing work necessary for the delivery of essential Defence activities, including Visiting Forces and NATO

– An official required to work on essential border security duties

– A person who resides in the UK and who pursues an activity as an employed or self-employed person in another country to which they usually go at least once a week 

Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian ambassador to the UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that no discussions had yet taken place between the two countries.

He said: ‘There is always a large number of British tourists coming to Italy, it’s one of Britain’s preferred destinations.  

‘We had 40 million trips from the UK to Italy last year. We know how much they love Italy. We are still open, welcoming them. 

‘We believe that this is pandemic is a global problem so the best thing to do is to tackle it with a coordinated approach.’

Mr Trombetta pointed to Italy’s own plans to lift quarantine rules for those travelling from the UK and the EU as of June 3.

He said: ‘We have made it clear what we are going to do and it’s important for British people to know that they can come to Italy. 

‘We understand that the UK’s new rules will be reassessed after three weeks so hopefully there will be an easing of the measures as we are doing in Italy.’

Several exemptions to the new rules were announced last night, including those living in Ireland, healthcare workers pilots.

However Ms Patel’s plans were also panned by the travel industry, which pointed out that those arriving in the UK will be allowed to use public transport to reach their address, possibly infecting others.

They also said that people could get around the rules by first flying into Ireland, which is exempt from the quarantine rules, before then travelling into Britain. 

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, was among the first to hit out at the new guidelines, which Ms Patel has already admitted would be under constant review. 

In a statement, it described the regime as ‘unenforceable’ and said it was ‘strongly opposed to ineffective non-scientific measures’. 

A spokesman added: ‘This isolation measure simply does not work unless passengers arriving in international UK airports are detained in airport terminals or hotels for the 14-day period.

‘Once these arriving passengers have travelled on the crowded London Underground, or the Heathrow and Gatwick Express, or buses or taxis to their destination, the subsequent quarantine is pointless.

‘If this measure had any basis in science, then the Irish visitors would not and could not be exempt.’

British ministers are said to be examining the idea of ‘Covid passports’ that could allow those who have had the disease to travel more widely without the need to undergo quarantine on their return to the UK.

The plans to get tourism moving are being promoted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who is said to have the backing of both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Miss Patel last night confirmed that the new quarantine regime would apply to almost all arrivals, including people returning from holidays abroad at ports and airports.

Under the plans, travellers arriving at all ports and airports will be ordered to go into self-isolation for a fortnight and to provide an address and contact details. 

They will not be allowed to accept visitors, unless they are providing essential support, and should not go out to buy food or other essentials ‘where they can rely on others’, the Home Office said. 

There is likely to be a small number of exemptions for truck drivers and some other critical roles while transit passengers who do not formally enter the UK will also be exempt.     

Public health officials are expected to conduct approximately 100 spot checks every day to ensure people are sticking to self-isolation. Those checks will start from the middle of June. 

People who arrive in the UK without accommodation arranged will have to pay for Government-arranged accommodation themselves. 

Despite Ms Patel insisting the policy will be reviewed every three weeks, Whitehall sources have played down hopes that the measures could be lifted before the summer holiday season.   

Virgin Atlantic warned the plan would keep planes grounded. 

‘The safety and security of our people and our customers is always our top priority and public health must come first,’ a spokeswoman said. 

‘However, by introducing a mandatory 14-day self-isolation for every single traveller entering the UK, the Government’s approach will prevent flights from resuming. 

‘We are continually reviewing our flying programme and with these restrictions, there simply won’t be sufficient demand to resume passenger services before August at the earliest.’

The airline instead called on the Government to introduce a ‘multi-layered approach’ with targeted public health and screening measures to allow the safe restart of international travel. 

The chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen Dee, had earlier told the Home Affairs Select Committee that drastic reductions in passenger numbers ‘may simply lead to a prolonged shutdown of all aviation’. 

France immediately hit back at the UK last night, saying it ‘regretted’ the decision and would look to impose a ‘reciprocal measure’ on Brits arriving at its borders

Passengers wearing personal protective equipment queued up to board a flight at Heathrow Airport on Friday

The strict new rules

What is going to happen?

All passengers arriving in the UK will have to fill in a form before heading to Britain. This will include British nationals coming home, as well as foreign visitors. You must provide the address at which you will be staying in the UK – and self-isolate there. You will not be allowed to leave that address at all, or receive visitors, for 14 days.

How will it work?

Passengers will be able to complete ‘contact locator form’ on the Government’s website up to 48 hours before departure. There will be no paper versions of the form. Failing to complete the form before travelling is a crime, but there will be a short grace period and allow travellers to fill in the form electronically in the arrivals hall.

How will this be enforced?

There will be spot checks to ensure all passengers have completed a form. Border Force staff will interview people as they leave planes and at border checkpoints.

What happens if I refuse to fill in a contact locator form?

You will be given an on-the-spot £100 fine by Border Force officers.

When will this come into force?

June 8.

What checks will take place during the 14-day period?

Public health officials will carry out random checks by telephone. If these raise doubts, police will visit the address, issuing a fine where necessary.

What happens if I leave the address I provide in the form?

In England, you will be issued with a £1,000 spot fine. You could even be prosecuted, and face an unlimited fine if convicted. The fine could increase beyond £1,000 if the ‘risk of infection from abroad increases’, the Home Office says. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have their own enforcement systems. 

A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Tour Operators told The Daily Telegraph: ‘As with so many Government ‘initiatives’, the 14-day quarantine rule comes across as a bit of a stab in the dark, quite possibly to be changed as quickly as it was introduced, as with the mooted air bridges.

‘In reality, quarantine should have been put in place right at the start of the pandemic, as our European neighbours did – we are now out of synch with them, as they emerge from quarantine and we go into it.’  

Piers Morgan lead calls for transparency about why coronavirus carriers were able to fly into the UK in the first place.

He wrote: ‘Of all the inexplicable decisions this Govt has made during the coronavirus crisis, quarantining people who fly into the UK after 20 million people have already flown in and 62,000 people have already died is the most… inexplicable.’

Nigel Farage tweeted: ‘The government quarantine should have been three months ago, not now. Far too late.’ 

Ms Patel insisted the Government does ‘recognise how hard these changes will be for our travel sector’ and that ministers will work with the industry to find ‘new ways to reopen international travel and tourism in a safe and responsible way’. 

A former head of Border Force said today he was ‘surprised’ quarantine measures had not been brought in at UK borders sooner.

Tony Smith, now chairman of the International Border Management and Technologies Association, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee today: ‘Yes I was surprised that we hadn’t seen earlier measures introduced at the UK border.’ 

Mr Shapps on Monday raised the idea of ‘air bridges’ with popular tourist destinations such as Spain. 

Madrid yesterday signalled it might be prepared to welcome UK tourists from July without asking them to self-isolate for 14 days.  

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘We need to find a way that the vast, vast, vast majority of people who don’t have a disease can still fly.’ 

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